Tag Archives: Mad Max: Fury Road

Leo Out-Survives Matt: A Look at Oscar’s Best Picture Nominees (Part 2)

The Oscars may be so white — as the hashtag declares — but that doesn’t mean the Academy isn’t capable of change.

Hollywood’s most beloved awards institution may have a long way to go where race is concerned, but judging by this year’s best picture nominees, they’re taking some strides, or at least baby steps, whether in embracing a groundbreaking action flick with a bold feminist perspective or hinting they may finally be ready to give Leo that damn Oscar he’s been waiting for since 1994.

All joking aside — I plan to discuss the controversy over race in a separate post this week — the 88th Academy Awards promise to be unpredictable, if not exactly radical or revolutionary. (The ceremony and its accompanying coverage are set to begin at 4 p.m. Sunday on ABC.)

Below, I discuss the remaining four nominees for the best picture Oscar. May the best flick win.

For a look at the other four nominees, check out my previous post

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The Martian

If the Oscars were voted by the people, there’s no doubt sci-fi dramedy “The Martian” would capture the best picture prize.

As crowd-pleasers go, the film is a doozy, grossing nearly $620 million worldwide after multiple No. 1 stints at the box office. Everybody wanted to see it. Everybody was talking about it.

At the Golden Globes, “The Martian” landed trophies for best pic in the comedy or musical category — in a bit of clever but odd positioning — and best actor for Matt Damon, also in the comedy category.

Those achievements aside, the movie seems destined to lose on Oscar night to a flick with more gravitas, say “The Revenant,” which is a little ironic for a film about the triumph of the human spirit against the most impossible odds.

Perhaps “The Martian” is easy to dismiss because of its lightness of tone, the way snubbed director Ridley Scott deftly blends humor, intensity and intelligence to portray the ordeal of an astronaut stranded millions of miles from Earth.

Not only does “The Martian” boast impressive visual effects — it’s nominated in that category as well as six others — it makes science look sexy in a way that few movies do. NASA and JPL have never appeared more hip or more glamorous, especially when staffed by the likes of Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Best actor nominee Matt Damon does nerds everywhere a valuable service by making botanist and all-around genius Mark Watney the most hilarious and lovable brainiac we’ve met, effortlessly tossing off witty quips to the camera.

If we’re being honest, “Ex Machina” was the more original, stylish and haunting science-fiction offering of 2015. That said, while several of this year’s best picture nominees work hard to subject their audiences to vicarious tribulation, “The Martian” strives to do nothing more than uplift and entertain.

In a world where cynicism often reigns, that’s no small accomplishment.

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The Revenant

Here is why “The Revenant” is almost certainly going to beat “The Martian” and every other film competing for best picture in this year’s Oscar race.

As the only man on Mars, Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut subsists on nothing but potatoes grown from his own manure and figures out some complicated math equations with nothing but terrible disco music and a video log to entertain him.

Tough? Yes.

But compare his hardships to the travails of Leonardo DiCaprio’s strapping fur trapper, Hugh Glass.

In “The Revenant,” Hugh is attacked by vengeful Native Americans, mauled by a raging mama bear, left for dead by his own men, buried alive, forced to cauterize his own wound with gun powder, swims through freezing rapids wearing a massive fur coat, jumps over a cliff on horseback, and then crawls into the animal’s oozing carcass for warmth. (And because said horse carcass was filmed by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and master cinematographer Emmanual Lubezki, this scene looks like a painting you’d find hanging on the wall of a national gallery.)

On top of all this, Inarritu and his crew endured their own severe trials while filming “The Revenant,” shooting in freezing temperatures with natural light in the wilds of Canada. People almost died! The Academy can’t resist a story like that.

So that is why “The Revenant” is nominated for 12 Oscars, including best director, cinematography, editing, costume design and visual effects, not to mention best actor for DiCaprio and best supporting actor for Tom Hardy, who co-stars as Glass’ scalped and scheming nemesis.

And that is why “The Revenant” won best picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes while Inarritu picked up a trophy for best director. (The film also seized the top prize in other major contests, including the Directors Guild Awards and the BAFTAs.)

That is also why it will finally be Leo’s year after four slights by the Academy in the past. It’s fitting because DiCaprio’s performance in “The Revenant” is like nothing he’s done before, largely silent, deeply physical, with a great, grizzly beard to cover up all that boyish charm.

Yep, it’s the beard that finally did it.

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Spotlight

As a journalist, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming affection for “Spotlight.”

The movie is a slow-burning but suspenseful look at how the Boston Globe’s special investigative team uncovered the scope of the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.

Directed by writer and character actor Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” is a disciplined, elegant, old fashioned morality tale in the vein of the iconic “All the President’s Men.” It’s a film that inspires outrage, sorrow, and ultimately hope, but it also happens to perfectly capture a fleeting, not-so-distant era in print journalism.

The events of “Spotlight” begin in 2001, only a few years after I began my career at a local newspaper. The movie sent me flashing back to those glory days of print, shortly before the entire industry imploded. From the demeanor of the reporters, to the clothes they wear, to the look of the newsroom, this film is just like being there.

Those days may be long gone, but I love how “Spotlight” champions thorough, thoughtful, brave reporting, the kind of careful, indispensable journalism that has mostly vanished since the rise of the speedy, sensational, soundbite-ready era of social media. At the same time, the movie is honest enough to acknowledge the limitations of the press.

“Spotlight” features a remarkable ensemble of actors working as a team, just as their characters do in the film, to reveal and clarify a scandal so shocking, sprawling and shrouded in secrecy it was almost impossible to fully grasp at the time of its unfolding.

Liev Schreiber as the new editor — not to mention a Jewish one in a predominantly Catholic town — who pushes his staff to pursue truth at all costs. Michael Keaton as the tenacious but cautious leader of the Spotlight team. Any one of the actors in “Spotlight” could have easily scored nominations.

Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo are the ones the Academy chose to vie for Oscar votes in the best supporting actress and actor categories. Their performances are remarkable, at the very least because they reminded me of some of the fine, dedicated newspaper reporters I used to work with.

“Spotlight” isn’t just a showcase for some truly commendable acting. It’s also a sober recognition of the victims who came forward to expose the church’s abuse, an absorbing procedural detailing the ins and outs of the investigative process, and a gripping reminder of the limitless potential for corruption when power goes unchecked.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is everything an action buff could ever want in an action movie. But it is also much more than that.

This sequel/reboot/whatever-the-heck-it-is to 1979 post-apocalyptic classic “Mad Max” is groundbreaking in every way, from its technical innovations, to its surreal but immersive fantasy world, to its unprecedented feminist point of view.

No other movie in 2015 thrilled me, captured my imagination and stayed with me like “Fury Road” did. It was hands-down my favorite cinematic experience of the year.

Here’s what I said about it when I included it in my Top 5 list:

“At 70 years old, director George Miller thoroughly overhauled the action movie with this insanely inventive follow-up to his original “Mad Max” trilogy.

“Part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza, this irresistible rush of a flick pairs Tom Hardy’s taciturn Max with one of the most bad-ass heroines of all time — Furiosa, a bald, one-armed truck driver played by Charlize Theron in a blend of toughness and true emotion.

“With its tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition-derby aesthetic, ‘Fury Road’ is a movie of primitive, streamlined power. It’s ferociously bleak and violent but also — dare I say it? — quite lovely.”

The fact that “Fury Road” was nominated for best picture, not to mention nine other trophies, is groundbreaking in itself and virtually unprecedented. For whatever reason, the Academy has been quick to snub action films, especially those with fantasy or science-fiction elements.

We fans of the genre know better though, that action movies can be just as thought-provoking, artful and compelling as weighty dramas, lavish period pieces or nimble comedies.

Because of Oscar’s long-held bias, “Fury Road” isn’t likely to claim the night’s top prize, but its very presence in the ceremony could herald a welcome, overdue shift in the Academy’s thinking.

Photos: http://www.foxmovies.com, http://www.youtube.com. 

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Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel!

Last year, around this time, we saluted the women who breathed fresh air into a moviegoing season that typically reeks of testosterone.

Many of 2014’s summer blockbusters were headlined by women, including Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, and Scarlett Johansson — cause for celebration. There was so much awesomeness going on that we declared it the “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies.”

Now it appears summer 2014 wasn’t a blip on Hollywood’s radar, but the beginning of a promising trend. The films of summer 2015 were packed with substantial roles for women, who effortlessly stole scenes –and, in some cases, entire movies — from their male co-stars.

(That said, annoying female stereotypes persist. Did “Jurassic World” really need to punish Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire for loving her job too much and not being into kids?)

As we close the books on the year’s most explosive moviegoing season, it is with great delight that we dub it “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel.”

Below, we revisit the baddest of these pioneering bad-asses. We hope we’ll be seeing them next summer, too.

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Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”: For the sake of its promotional campaign, Warner Bros. pretended that Tom Hardy’s Max is the star of “Fury Road.” But if you’ve seen the film, you know it is Theron who owns virtually every frame of this magnificently bleak and beautiful post-apocalyptic action flick. With a shaved head, oily face paint and one arm, tough-as-nails truck driver Furiosa is the heart and sinew of director George Miller’s female-centric road movie, with Hardy’s Max mostly along for the ride. When it comes to sci-fi heroines, she’s right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

What’s even more impressive? There isn’t a single damsel in distress to be found in “Fury Road.” The cast’s menagerie of bizarre supporting characters includes strong, resourceful women of all ages and personalities. Why should this be such a rare thing? Hollywood execs should use Miller’s forward-thinking epic as a template for all summer blockbusters to come.

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Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”: There are so many wonderful, eerie and astonishing things to discover in writer-director Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller. Chief among them is Swedish performer Vikander, also delightful in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” who brings to life the strikingly beautiful, eerily lifelike humanoid at the center of the film. With her cherubic face and curvaceous CGI body, Vikander’s Ava is alluring and dismaying, uncannily perfect, and completely believable. Is Ava the perfect object of male fantasies or a master manipulator? Is she a girl waiting to be rescued or a skilled self preservationist? In a film where nothing is quite what you expect it to be, Vikander is the biggest surprise of them all.

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Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”: Last summer, Tom Cruise starred in “Edge of Tomorrow” but willingly took a back seat to the incredibly bad-ass Emily Blunt, who dominated the clever sci-fi thriller. Weird rumors about Katie Holmes aside, maybe this guy deserves some feminist cred. This summer, he did it again, basically ceding his role as headliner of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” to intriguing newcomer Rebecca Ferguson.

As enigmatic triple agent Ilsa Faust, Ferguson matches Cruise step for step and blow for blow in executing her own stunts and when it comes to intrigue, she’s a lot more interesting than the one-dimensionally heroic Ethan Hunt. The film’s most electrifying sequence, an attempted assassination in a Vienna opera house, is almost entirely Ferguson’s show. Coolly shimmying up the rigging in the sleekest, and most practical, of silk gowns, she’s practically auditioning to take over the franchise.

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Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”: McCarthy has always been brilliant at satirizing social convention, but she’s so likable and so good at what she does, we hardly notice the sly statements she makes. In “Spy,” she reunites with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig and tackles the male-dominated genre made famous by James Bond and Jason Bourne, playing a timid CIA analyst lured out from behind her desk and into the dangerous field.

McCarthy may be may be sending up the exotic, over-the-top world of Hollywood espionage, but she also has a lot of fun and gets to do everything 007 does — a moped chase in Budapest, a killer knife fight — only she’s way more hilarious.

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Elizabeth Olsen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: When it comes to creating memorable on-screen superheroines, Marvel has been a bit slow to evolve. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a formidable force but is seriously outnumbered by her male colleagues, who don’t have to stuff themselves into a slinky, black catsuit before saving the world. So it was a welcome moment when Olsen’s otherworldly Scarlet Witch made the scene in “Age of Ultron,” wielding some very cool telekinetic abilities. You can see just see the neighborhood kids mimicking her witchy powers of mind control while playing superhero. That’s something long overdue.

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Kate Mara in “Fantastic Four”: Comic book movie reboot “Fantastic Four” took a critical and fiscal bruising when it debuted earlier this month. The film is widely considered a disaster but it contains at least one overlooked element: Mara’s thoughtful portrayal of invisible woman Sue Storm. Watching the actor at work, it’s hard to believe that only 10 years ago, Jessica Alba’s Sue was largely celebrated for the way she filled out her skintight suit. In sharp contrast, Mara’s performance emphasizes Sue’s brains over her body. She is arguably the first female superhero whose intellect is more important than her sex appeal.

Photos: http://www.techinsider.io; http://www.youtube.com; marvel.com; tribecafilm.com, http://www.zimbio.com.

‘Mad Max’: Insane, Intense, Inventive, and Runs on Girl Power

Mad Max: Fury Road
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (intense sequences of violence, disturbing images)
120 minutes
The film is playing in 3-D, but due to a terrible conversion, it’s best to opt for crisp, clear 2-D.

The mad vision of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is so insane-intense-inventive, it demands to be seen. If you only take in one action movie this summer, this has to be it.

Fans of the original trilogy, which starred a young, crazy-eyed up-and-comer named Mel Gibson, will be pleased to note that “Fury Road” maintains the grotesquely mutated genetic material of its predecessors: parched post-apocalyptic setting, weirdly descriptive slang, colorful, carnie-like characters, hurtling camera angles, a certain Ford Falcon Interceptor and a villainous warlord, played with deranged relish by “Mad Max” villain Hugh Keays-Byrne.

The film functions handily as either a sequel or reboot and boldly announces the return of director George Miller, who conjured up the phantasmagorical world introduced in 1979’s “Mad Max” as only an Australian medical doctor turned film student could.

Miller was 69 during the making of “Fury Road” and his singular perspective comes to the screen undiminished, even enhanced. The movie is part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza.

“Fury Road” was intended to be realized a decade ago with Gibson reprising his role as dystopian cop Max Rockatansky. Middle Eastern wars, freak rains in the Australian desert and Gibson’s eventual public meltdown scuttled those plans, paving the way for Tom Hardy to inherit the Road Warrior’s extremely distressed leather jacket.

Hardy dons this mantle as comfortably as if he’d been born to play it. Miller introduces the always fascinating actor’s even wilder-eyed, more desperate, more silent Max on the run.

He never really stops running.

“Fury Road” is essentially one long, ingenious action sequence. In the film’s first hour alone, Max is pursued, captured, tattooed, caged and strapped to the front of a moving car as a human “blood bag” to an ailing “War Boy.”

And that’s before he meets Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, the bad-ass, bald driver of a massive custom truck, aka War Rig, belonging to Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) the theatrical, oxygen-mask-wearing dictator of Miller’s toxic wasteland.

Joe presides over The Citadel, pacifying the half-dead survivors who reluctantly serve as his subjects with the prospect of clean, cool, gushing water. He sends Furiosa on a mission to Gas Town to load up on the Earth’s second most critical remaining resource, but she has other ideas.

As she and Max are chased by Joe’s entourage, a freak-show caravan of Valhalla-obsessed, albino War Boys and jury-rigged junkyard cars that’s at once terrifying and hilarious (watch out for Electric Guitar Guy), they become unwitting allies in delivering the “treasures” hidden in the hold of Furiosa’s rig to a mythical paradise known as the “Green Place.”

Filmed in the eerily unspoiled deserts of Namibia, “Fury Road” feels remarkably real — tactile, scruffy, dirty — as surreal and strange as its world may be. Miller opted for physical props and old-fashioned, practical stunt work instead of computer-generated imagery. It’s a difference that sets the film above the sometimes soulless CGI of this summer’s blockbuster fare, movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “San Andreas” and “Jurassic World.”

The tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition derby aesthetic of “Fury Road” is amplified by the film’s minimalist dialogue. The audiences pieces together just what it needs to and infers the rest with an efficiency that imbues the movie with a primitive, streamlined power.

“Fury Road” is ferociously bleak and violent and, yet, it has these small, unexpected human moments that make it almost … lovely?

To say that Miller has done something groundbreaking with the sheer number of strong women included in its bizarre menagerie of characters isn’t an exaggeration. There’s not a useless damsel in distress to be found among the resourceful female fighters who occupy virtually every frame of the film.

Theron’s angry, hopeful Furiosa is an action heroine for the ages — psst, don’t tell anyone, but she’s more the star of the film than Max is — right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

Miller, who conceived the story with comic book artist Brendan McCarthy and actor Nick Lathouris, clearly has serious issues on the brain: the environment, religious fanaticism, oil wars, poverty, the enslavement of women. And, yes, it’s true that playwright and feminist activist Eve Ensler consulted on the film.

If any of this makes “Fury Road” sound like a drag, don’t believe it for a minute.

Mostly, the movie is a mad, mad, mad, mad rush.

 

 

Are WonderCon Glory Days Already in the Past?

It was a weekend of hellfire and brimstone, and geeks on parade.

It was the only place in the country where you could find scowling street preachers, moms and dads with cute, little Jawas in tow, gender-bending Harley Quinns and Hulks, and ladies in anime finery that made all but the perviest of amateur photographers blush.

It was WonderCon, that annual gathering of comic book nerds and pop culture enthusiasts, where the atmosphere is a weird, entertaining mixture of family friendly and R-rated.

Transforming the Anaheim Convention Center into a colorful sea of celebrities, comic book artists, superheroes, Disney princesses, “Game of Thrones” characters and animated critters, the event wrapped Sunday after three days of movie, TV and manga-inspired madness.

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This was my fourth year at WonderCon, an event I anticipate with relish. I love taking in the unusual sights and sounds of the convention, communing with fellow fangirls and -boys, and letting my enthusiasm for pop culture run wild.

This time around, though, the bloom was off the rose. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I need to take a breather, but the convention is starting to feel a bit repetitive to me.

In 2012, organizer Comic-Con International moved its second largest event from San Francisco to Anaheim, an exciting development for Southern California pop culture enthusiasts. Since then, however, the programming at WonderCon has grown less compelling and less relevant with each year.

This is especially true when it comes to the film-related portion of the convention. Because WonderCon competes with its big sister convention, San Diego Comic-Con, the major Hollywood studios aren’t willing to expend the resources to make appearances at both events.

Disney throws its own convention, D23, so that rules out any Marvel movie or Star Wars presence at WonderCon. Meanwhile, Fox, Warner Bros. and their ilk won’t loan out footage or talent from their most anticipated comic book or sci-fi flicks when they’ll be bringing out the big guns in July at Comic-Con.

Initially, WonderCon organizers managed to scrape together some interesting Q&A sessions and sneak peaks anyway.

In the past, featured films included “Battleship,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Prometheus,” “Pacific Rim,” “The Conjuring,” “This is the End,” “Evil Dead,” “Godzilla” and “The Maze Runner.” Stars such as Charlize Theron, Emma Stone, Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen appeared to discuss their projects.

Those days are apparently over. This year’s Hollywood programming could only be described as dismal.

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Aside from a presentation by horror outfit Blumhouse, the only major movie event at WonderCon this year was a Warner Bros. panel.

What did Warner Bros. deem worthy of showcasing to the thousands of fans who filled the convention center’s flying-saucer-like Arena? Aside from some admittedly electrifying footage from the upcoming “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the studio spent the majority of its (extremely brief) time hawking the cheesy disaster flick “San Andreas,” starring Dwayne Johnson.

The Rock couldn’t be bothered to attend, leaving director Brad Peyton and co-stars Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario to congratulate themselves on finding the “emotions” in this ridiculous looking film.

I propose that WonderCon organizers refrain from insulting convention-goers with half-hearted, mediocre offering and just jettison the movie portion of the event. They should focus on their strengths: the comic books, the TV shows, the nerdy Internet phenoms.

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t good stuff to be seen at the 2015 Con. I sat in on a delightful panel for BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” which returns for a third season on April 18.

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There were screenings and signings and sneak peeks galore. Geek icons Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick held audiences spellbound. There were Q&As and special screenings for popular series “Gotham” and “The Flash,” while viewers were courted by newbies “American Odyssey” and “iZombie.”

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The convention’s exhibit hall continues to be an overwhelmingly wondrous place to shop for nerd necessities, like action figures, comic books, T-shirts and pleasingly strange curios, although it does tend to feature the same vendors year after year.

The fans who attend WonderCon never fail to entertain, especially the ones who turn out in the elaborate handmade get-ups that inspire the rest of us to point with childlike glee and whip out our cameras.

My favorites this year included the entire, elaborately costumed team from “Big Hero Six,” a handful of convincing “Game of Thrones” lookalikes, a baby Tank Girl, a couple of tiny Jawas, a fabulous Poison Ivy drag queen and the usual assortment of Star Wars fans, who never fail to pull out all the stops when it comes to wardrobe.

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It has been reported that organizers plan to move the 2016 edition of WonderCon to the Los Angeles Convention Center, a development that raises all kinds of questions for the future of the event.

Will this larger, more Hollywood-centric location inject some much-needed novelty into the event? Perhaps give it the heft it needs to attract stronger programming?

Or will it turn it into the impossible-to-navigate, hyper-commercial circus that San Diego Comic-Con has become?

Only time will tell.

Here’s hoping time will be kind to us, the fans who love WonderCon.

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Photos: Nick Vroman, Lavender Vroman